Jojo A. Robles

Tension in Chinatown

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Not a lot of people talk about it, but it’s an issue that has to be confronted sooner or later: What’s the large ethnic Chinese community’s position on the growing tension between Manila and Beijing over the West Philippine Sea?


For the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the biggest organization of ethnic Chinese businessmen in the Philippines, the situation has gotten way too tense for comfort. That’s why FCCCI cancelled the diplomatic and friendship portion of its three-part celebration this week of the 117th anniversary of Philippine Independence, which culminates on Friday, June 12.

Angel Ngu, the association’s president, said President Noynoy Aquino’s remarks during his state visit to Japan last week, which were roundly denounced in China, forced the group to call an emergency meeting last Saturday. The upshot of the meeting was a decision to scale down last Monday’s celebration, which included the cancellation of a scheduled speech by the Chinese ambassador, Zhao Jianhua, during the scuttled diplomatic and friendship portion.

“We think, as Filipinos, perhaps this is not a good time [to celebrate Filipino-Chinese friendship],” said Ngu. “It should be a good relationship, [but] given what’s been happening, I think we have to [emphasize] Independence Day rather than have a celebration of Filipino-Chinese friendship.”

I’m sure the Filipino-Chinese community doesn’t want to be put in the uncomfortable situation of having to choose between the only country they call home and the homeland of their forefathers. Of course, if the tension continues to escalate in the disputed territories in the sea, that position could quickly become untenable.

After all, as the FCCCI must very well know, the growing anti-Chinese sentiment could turn into a class war because of the widespread perception that the wealthy and influential classes in the Philippines are also predominantly ethnic Chinese. For the moment, Ngu said local Chinese businessmen stand steadfastly behind their adopted country, even if they are feeling the heat of the diplomatic and media back-and-forth between the two countries.

Ngu must have spoken for many of his fellow Filipino-Chinese when he said: “I was born here, I stay here, I love the Philippines but I don’t want us to be in conflict with where my father came from.”

* * *

Aquino, of course, has not helped the situation any by his statements on the matter of deteriorating Philippines-China relations. In fact, the Philippine President reached a new low when he compared China to Nazi Germany because of its unabated encroachment.

The Chinese have called the latest broadside from Aquino “reckless,” but neither the Philippine leader nor any of his spokesmen have expressed a willingness to ratchet down the heated rhetoric. In this sense, Aquino – who is also ethnic Chinese on his mother’s side – is only running true to form, talking tough when even he knows that he may not be standing on solid legal and diplomatic ground.

Of course, the unexpectedly strong reaction from the United States to Beijing’s reclamation efforts must have convinced Aquino that he remains on some sort of straight path from which he can heckle the Chinese with impunity. It’s just sad that instead of acting like a statesmanlike and conciliatory leader, Aquino is treating the whole intensifying crisis like a domestic political issue, which allows him to ridicule his opponents at will.

On the other hand, I am sure the Aquino administration must be thankful that he has a big controversy with Beijing that allows him to divert attention from his other problems on the domestic scene, like the impending fiasco that is his bid to have Congress railroad the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law. Since the BBL appears dead in the water in both the House and the Senate, Aquino seems to have decided to get into a shouting match with the Chinese – much to the dismay of our other neighbors in the region, including those who are also claiming parts of the disputed sea.

What Aquino’s American-aided saber-rattling on the West Philippine Sea is obviously achieving is polarizing Filipinos against each other, specifically those of Chinese descent and those who are not. And if the FCCCI’s last-minute cancellation of its scheduled program is any indication, Aquino’s strange brand of diplomacy is already sending shivers down the collective spine of ethnic Chinese businessmen.

It doesn’t help, either, that some of Aquino’s more strident supporters have started making more and more strident calls to escalate the growing conflict, like calling for a boycott of Chinese-made products or local businesses. I don’t know if Malacanang is behind these calls in order to create a “Wag The Dog” scenario of diversionary publicity – all I know is that no one in this country will benefit from a shooting war with the Chinese.

The large and influential ethnic Chinese community is already on tenterhooks. And they want to remind the rest of us that they should not be targeted as the convenient victims this early in this conflict, simply because they, too, are Filipinos.

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